Frontline Documentary on David Coleman Headley

Bump and Update: On Frontline tonight, don't miss A Perfect Terrorist, about former DEA informant David Coleman Headley, aka Daood Giliani, who pleaded guilty in Chicago in exchange for a life sentence for his role in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

FRONTLINE and ProPublica investigate the mysterious circumstances behind David Headley’s rise from heroin dealer and U.S. government informant to master plotter of the 2008 attack on Mumbai.

By most accounts except its own, the DEA turned Headley from a drug informant into a terror informant. And failed to notice he had joined the terrorists for real. [More..]

"What his probation officer and a defense lawyer and others familiar with his case say is that the government sought to end his probation early so that he could go to Pakistan and continue his counterterrorism work there as an informant." But when Headley returned to Pakistan and started training with Lashkar-e-Taiba, his goal wasn't to send information back to the United States.

"He's actually training for real," says Rotella. "He's learning everything from basic counterterrorism to surveillance to survival [skills]. He's becoming a holy warrior."

As congressional funding continues to expand the role of the DEA as global holy warriors, it should remember its failure with David Coleman Headley.

Here are the details on Headley's work for the DEA, as told by court dockets and documents and news articles at the time. The first agent to turn Headley, then known as Daood Gilani, was Agent Derek Maltz, after he was caught with 2 kilos of heroin in his luggage in Frankfurt in 1988. Where is Maltz now? He's now head of DEA's Special Operations Division.

Who was handling Gilani in 1997 and thereafter? Not only was he a heroin addict with two strikes, he had been diagnosed with multiple personality disorders. He even lied about it at the trial of Tahawwur Rana, his co-defendant in the Chicago trial.

When Mr. Headley told the court earlier that he had never been treated for a mental disorder, he failed to disclose that in 1992 he was diagnosed with a multiple-personality disorder and that he underwent 18 months of psychological treatment around 1997. Confronted with his medical record, Mr. Headley said softly, "I don't recall it." When Mr. Blegen asked him if he would like to see the paperwork, he said, "I will accept it."

How did Rana's lawyers find out about his mental health issues? Probably because as I reported here, the Government had moved to disclose a section of his presentence report to a defendant named Ikram Haq because it contained impeaching information. Headley testified against Haq in a heroin case. Haq was acquitted. But the import is that the Government knew in 1998 (if not before) that Headley, in addition to being a heroin addict, had serious psychological problems.

In 2010, the New York Times reported in depth on the DEA's failure with Headley. The Telegraph says it was British intelligence that tipped the U.S. off to Headley's role in Mumbai. As I wrote here:

What was the DEA thinking when it sent Headley, an informant with two heroin convictions and mental health issues, whose testimony a jury had rejected as non-credible, to Pakistan in December, 2001? Who was the agent in charge of watching him? Was it Derek Maltz, who used him as an informant following his 1988 heroin bust? Or a successor?

Whoever it was sure dropped the ball. The DEA failed to realize Headley had switched sides and was playing them when he went to an LeT training camp in Feb. 2002...and again and again as Headley attended terror training camp after terror training camp. Headley told Indian authorities after his arrest he decided to join LeT in 2001.

And after all that double-crossing, the Government gives him yet another break, sparing him from the death penalty and extradition to India. For what? To get a conviction on Tahawwur Rana, whose involvement, if any, consisted of letting Headley use his immigration business as a cover?

And how have they not found Major Iqbal yet -- the Pakistani officer indicted in Chicago who Headley says was one of his handlers?

Every time the DEA touts its success with a terror case, someone should remind it of its failure with David Coleman Headley.

Update: Sebastian Rotella at ProPublica has a terrific update with new information about Headley's cooperation with the DEA. Contradictions abound. Rotella interviewed DEA agents about Headley's cooperation. He also publishes the DEA's 1998 letter to the Judge outlining Headleys' cooperation, which was unsealed for the Rana case, and the transcript of the hearing terminating his supervised release three years early.

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